The following is a guest post by Nan Fischer, a Certified EcoBroker specializing in green real estate in Taos, NM. Check out her website www.nanfischer.com, and follow her on Twitter for a daily green news feed, www.twitter.com/nan_fischer. Nan writes about green building, solar energy and the environment on her blog, www.desertverde.com.
In 1997, I lived in Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, near the Rio Ojo on the way to the mineral springs. (David’s note – Oh how I miss New Mexico!) The soil was very sandy, a stark change from the adobe clay I was used to in Taos, and water ran right through it.
There was a small flower bed under a cottonwood tree off to the side of the house. When I see a flower bed, I have an impulsive need to fill it up. I planted it with the leftover flowers and shrubs from the foundation plantings. When I went to water it, though, I realized that my longest hose only reached just inside the edge. I watered the plants in by hand until they seemed established, then I let nature take its course.
It was a very dry summer, so I turned the hose on that bed a few times to get as much of it wet as I could. The sandy soil was not helpful in keeping things damp! By fall, the pansies and other annuals were crispy, but the hardy native plants had survived. I was moving back to Taos, so I dug those up and took them with me. If anything could have withstood that watering torture (or non-watering torture!), it got a gold star and deserved to come along.
Can you already see why it’s important to plant native species? Only the plants that were used to very little water survived. They did not need more than natural rainfall to get through.
Adaptable species are hardy, too. They may not be native to an area, but they grow and thrive in similar conditions. The sandy soil and climate in Ojo are similar to parts of France and Greece, I was told. Herbs do well in those countries, and mine flourished with very little care in Ojo! I had the most beautiful lavender I’d ever grown! And with little maintenance!
Other reasons for planting native and adaptable species:
They do not need fertilizer. Native plants are used to growing in the local soil, and that is why they are established there. They get exactly what they need from the environment. You don’t have to add anything.
They are less prone to disease and pests. Plants that are stressed from too little water are susceptible to attack. An extreme case in point is the bark beetle damage to the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains. After years of drought, the trees were so stressed, bark beetles were able to move in and kill thousands of acres of trees. Like I say, that’s an extreme example of susceptibility. As a homeowner, when you grow drought tolerant species, a drought will not interfere, but you an also choose to water in dry times.
They offer food and shelter for wildlife. You can attract local birds all year with nectar in summer and berries and seeds in winter. If you planted a yard full of exotic plants, the native animals would not be able to feed, nest or have shelter.
You will have more time to enjoy your native/adaptable landscape by eliminating water, fertilizer, pesticides and the maintenance that goes along with them.
Do not move to a different part of the country and expect to grow the same plants you grew at home! You can move across town and experience the same thing. Soils, light, humidity and rainfall all affect not just plants, but all wildlife.
Live within your ecosystem to be a conscious gardener. To learn more, get involved in your local or regional Native Plant Society, and check out these books:
For the southwest, I highly recommend Judith Phillips’ books, especially Natural by Design: Beauty and Balance in Southwest Gardens and its companion, Plants for Natural Gardens: Southwestern Native & Adaptive Trees, Shrubs, Wildflowers & Grasses.
Here are books for other parts of the country.